Two pygmy killer whales, rescued in Clearwater, arrived at Mote Marine Laboratory on August 29, 2018. Read patient cases here: Thunder and Lightning

A third whale, rescued in Longboat Key by Mote Marine Laboratory, arrived on September 4, 2018. Read patient case here: Bolt


NEWEST UPDATE: September 7, 2018

We are sad to announce that Bolt has passed. Listen to Gretchen Lovewell, Program Manager from Stranding Investigations, give a final update.

September 6, 2018

We are sad to announce that Thunder has passed.

Thunder & Lightning: As reported yesterday, Sept.5, Lightning the pygmy killer whale passed. We are sad to report that Thunder also passed peacefully this morning at Mote Marine Laboratory. Thunder was very socially bonded with the other pygmy killer whale, Lightning, and we are unsure what impact Lightning’s recent passing had on Thunder: Lightning passed about 26 hour previous to Thunder.

Thunder’s body will be transported to University of Florida (UF) for advanced diagnostic imaging, before returning to Mote Marine Laboratory for necropsy. Lighting was also transported to UF, and early results from Lighting’s diagnostic imaging revealed severe sinusitis. After necropsy, both skeletons will return to Mote’s Ruth DeLynn Cetacean Osteological Collection for preservation to further advance knowledge of the pygmy killer whale species.

Bolt: Bolt, the male melon-headed whale rescued by Mote on Longboat Key, remains in critical condition in Mote’s hospital. Hospital staff were able to weigh Bolt, who is about 300 pounds. After spending more time with Bolt, staff estimate that he is likely an older male, due to apparent tooth wear and scarring along his back. Bolt is able to swim freely in his hospital tank under the watchful eye of caregivers. Possibly because he’s a different species, Bolt seems more “feisty” than pygmy killer whales Thunder and Lightning were. However, Bolt’s bloodwork reveals that he is very sick and staff remain guarded on his prognosis.

Mote staff has collected blood serum samples from Thunder, Bolt and Lightning, and are sending them to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to test for Florida red tide toxin exposure. Lab results may take several weeks.


September 5, 2018

We are sad to announce that Lightning has passed

LightningWe are sad to say that Lightning died around 9 a.m. Sept. 5. Lightning was the sickest of the three recently stranded whales. She repeatedly struggled to swim on her own, showed no interest in food, and was being treated for pneumonia, parasites known as nasotrema, and gastric issues. Her specific cause of death is not known. While we are sad that Lightning has passed, we are working quickly to learn as much as we can from her, both to benefit the knowledge of pygmy killer whales for conservation, and to benefit the care of our other pygmy killer whales in hospital settings. Today, Lightning is being transported to the University of Florida for a necropsy (animal autopsy), with participation of UF and Mote staff, and for UF’s advanced diagnostic imaging to better understand her anatomy, physiology, illness and ultimately her demise. Lightning’s skeleton will be preserved in Mote’s Ruth DeLynn Cetacean Osteological Collection to further advance knowledge of her species.

We are grateful for all those who sent positive wishes for Lightning and for the Mote team who worked day and night to keep her as comfortable as possible.

Thunder and Bolt: Both Thunder and Bolt are swimming on their own as of 11 a.m. Sept. 5, and continue to be monitored 24-7. Given their ability to swim, Mote staff have been able to raise the water level in their pool. Blood test results from Bolt are pending, and Thunder continues to be treated for nasotrema parasites, infection and gastric issues. Bolt is showing interest in food, and staff are planning to offer him fish soon. Thunder has shown less interest in food but has tolerated staff-assisted feeding. Mote staff have collected blood serum samples from Thunder, Bolt and Lightning, and are sending them to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to test for Florida red tide toxin exposure.

Bolt is a male melon-headed whale. Thunder is a female pygmy killer whale.


September 4, 2018

Mote Marine Laboratory staff rescues third stranded whale on Longboat Key

Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program received a call regarding a beached whale on Longboat Key. Staff immediately responded to the distressed animal and were able to transport the whale to Mote’s Jane’s Refuge Dolphin & Whale Hospital on City Island, Sarasota, to begin treatment. The third whale has been nicknamed “Bolt,” and at this time remains in critical condition. Bolt is presumed male.

Bolt, the newest whale in Mote’s hospital, is determined to be a melon-headed whale. This species of whale is similar in appearance to the other species currently being rehabilitated at Mote, a pygmy killer whale nicknamed Thunder.


August 30, 2018

Pygmy killer whales ‘Thunder’ and ‘Lightning’receive critical care at Mote

Two pygmy killer whales are receiving 24-hour critical care today, Aug. 30, at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, after stranding and being rescued on Aug. 29 in Clearwater.

The whales — nicknamed “Thunder” and “Lightning” because they arrived at Mote during an afternoon thunderstorm on Aug. 29 — remain in critical condition this afternoon. Thunder has been able to swim unaided for stretches of time, while Lightning frequently needs to be supported by caregivers in the water. The whales have shown some interaction with each other — positive signs for this social species — but at this early stage, their prognosis is unclear and can change at any time.

Why the whales stranded is unknown. “Pygmy killer whales are offshore, deep-water animals that are rarely observed and little understood — if they are sighted around the coast, they are generally in trouble,” said Gretchen Lovewell, Manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program.

Thunder and Lightning were rescued from the beach and transported to Mote by rescuers from Clearwater Marine Aquarium, with approval of NOAA Fisheries, which oversees the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Within the NOAA network, Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program provides rapid response 24-7 to reports of stranded marine mammals and sea turtles in Sarasota and Manatee counties and assists in other areas as needed by the network, rescuing animals found alive and recovering those found deceased to conduct thorough necropsies designed to advance knowledge and conservation of their species. Jane’s Refuge: The Hospital for Dolphins and Whales at Mote Marine Laboratory is dedicated to providing excellent care to stranded dolphins and small whales, always with the goal of returning these animals to the wild and gathering knowledge to benefit their species in the process.

In their medical pool at Mote, Thunder and Lightning are receiving constant monitoring and care, physical support from caregivers as needed, fluid therapy and diagnostic tests to guide their treatment.

“So far we are providing antibiotics, fluids and treatment for parasites, and we’re testing for other concerns that might affect this offshore species,” Lovewell said.

A bloom of Florida red tide algae (Karenia brevis) continues along southwest Florida, but so far the whales have shown no behavioral signs of exposure to red tide neurotoxins.

“We will take blood samples, and if possible, fecal samples to send to a lab that will test for red tide toxin exposure; the results will likely take weeks, as samples are being tested from many animals in many areas now,” Lovewell said.

This month, Lovewell and colleagues in Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program have been working hard to recover unusually high numbers of deceased animals with suspected or confirmed red tide exposure, to conduct thorough necropsies and learn as much as possible to benefit conservation.

“It’s been a herculean task for our small staff and trained volunteers — responding to several times our usual number of calls and conducting recoveries and necropsies continually, while simultaneously working with our hospital on 24-hour critical care for Thunder and Lightning, which will continue for the duration of their stay,” said Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby.


Critical care for just one whale costs thousands of dollars per day. At the same time, the Lab as a whole is responding to multiple ecological emergencies: the long-lasting red tide bloom along southwest Florida requiring intensive monitoring, research and outreach; the related spike in wildlife mortality that demands attention at virtually all hours; and a record outbreak of coral disease in the Florida Keys requiring unprecedented, scientific response.

While emergency government aid is helping with parts of our response efforts, it cannot close the gap facing Mote as a nonprofit. Community support can make all the difference in helping Mote address these emergencies issues. Visit this page to support these critical efforts.


NOAA Fisheries information about pygmy killer whales: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/pygmy-killer-whale

NOAA Fisheries information about melon-headed whales: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/melon-headed-whale